LONDON: Three Americans detained by the Iranian government for more than a year are suing their former captors, arguing that the Tehran regime owes them damages for the pain and torture they endured while incarcerated on charges without basis of espionage.
The trio – Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal – were hiking on Iran’s border with Iraq in 2009 when they were seized.
Shourd and Bauer, both journalists and formerly married, and Fattal have their trial supervised by federal judge Richard Leon in Washington.
In 2019, Leon ordered the regime in Tehran to pay Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian $180 million after he had a similar experience to the trio and was jailed for more than a year on bogus espionage charges.
Leon heard the case in Iran’s absence after the Iranian government failed to respond to the lawsuit filed in October 2016.
Rezaian received heavy damages in order to influence the regime and dissuade it from using hostages as political bargaining chips.
The United States has seized significant Iranian assets following a sanctions plan put in place to combat the Tehran regime’s terrorist activities around the world, with any damages awarded to the trio to come from the Security Fund. Congressional Justice for Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism.
Shourd and Bauer were originally opponents of US sanctions on Iran after their captivity ended, but now stand to benefit from the restrictions if their trial is successful.
Bauer in 2016 said the sanctions were “completely irresponsible”, while Shourd said the restrictions would hit “the poorest Iranians the hardest”.
The Guardian newspaper has asked lawyers representing the three former prisoners for comment, but has not received a response.
The lawsuit filed by the trio details the story that led to their captivity, with Shourd and Bauer moving to Yemen and then Syria in 2008.
Shourd, an anti-war activist, and Bauer, a freelance journalist, moved there to improve their Arabic.
Fattal visited the couple in 2009, when the group embarked on the ill-fated trek to Iraqi Kurdistan that would spark controversy.
A group of Iranian soldiers arrested the group after they allegedly crossed into Iran, with the soldiers mistaking the trio for Iraqis and rummaging through their belongings, including cameras and hiking gear.
The three were crammed into a car, where they remained for three days, fearing for their lives. The lawsuit added that they were taken to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, where several high profile Western hostages were held captive and held in separate small cells.
The lawsuit launched by the trio argues that they were interrogated in a way that attempted to get them to reveal they were American spies.
Bauer was asked if he worked for a US mercenary company, while Shourd was challenged if she worked on a US government mission and asked about any visits to the Pentagon.
The lawsuit also claims a guard once told Bauer he knew the American was not a spy, adding, “But it was up to the US government and the Iranian government to negotiate his release,” suggesting that the regime in Tehran was using the three hostages as political bargaining chips – a strategy Iran has deployed over the past decades.
The three former prisoners said they frequently heard screams of torture from nearby cells and feared they would be next to face brutal treatment.
Shourd was kept alone throughout the ordeal, with the lawsuit alleging Iranian officials and guards failed to treat a breast lump, precancerous cervical cells and other health issues she reported.
Bauer and Fattal were eventually kept together in a cramped cell.
Shroud was released in September 2010 after the regime called it an act of post-Ramadan leniency, but Bauer and Fattal were denied release for another year.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s then president, reportedly freed the couple before flying to the United Nations General Assembly in New York to get applause.
The trio attracted media attention upon their return, with former President Barack Obama issuing a statement celebrating their release.
All three have reported difficulty with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States. Their personal life suffered. Shourd and Bauer married in 2012, but divorced seven years later.
This is not the first lawsuit filed by the group, with Shourd and her mother suing the Iranian government in May.
The families endured significant emotional turmoil during the trio’s captivity, with the joint trial arguing that Shourd was a political hostage.
Fattal and his family also launched a lawsuit in July. Bauer’s family completed the set in August.